Rebecca Zook - Math Tutoring Online

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Posts Tagged as "geometry"

Testimonial: I’m officially a unicorn

Friday, February 21st, 2020

I was very touched to receive this testimonial from a current client whose daughter I’m tutoring in 10th grade Geometry:

Ok, my kid is a quirky, intuitive, kind, and wonderful person. She just did not get math. At all. As she progressed through elementary and middle schools, tutored all the way, doing math camps over the summer, and stints at Mathnasium, she kept falling further behind. I couldn’t help her because I didn’t know how. My husband’s approach hurt more than helped, adding to her anxiety and worsening her self esteem.

I was pretty desperate by the time I connected with Rebecca. Our first couple of phone calls, learning about her and her approach, were like taking a step back, a deep breath, and looking at my child anew. I felt hopeful because I knew Rebecca’s work would never hurt my daughter and may even help her.

Fast forward 4 months. My daughter is on a steady trajectory forward, enjoys geometry, loves Rebecca, and is looking forward to higher level math. She is getting it. Rebecca is patient and explores why she doesn’t understand something, helps her fill in the foundational gaps, and build up her knowledge. She participates more in class, isn’t hiding from math, and seems to actually enjoy learning geometry. An added plus is that she loves being smarter than me!

I call Rebecca my daughter’s unicorn – a rare and wondrous thing – a teacher worth her weight in gold. — mother of 10th grade geometry student at Yorktown High School

If you’re looking for a math unicorn — someone who will actually connect with your child and explain in a way they can deeply understand and remember, so they actually look forward to tutoring and get great grades — call me at 617-888-0160.

We’ll have a brief conversation about what’s not working, what you want instead, and how I can specifically help your child. And if it makes sense, we’ll go ahead and set up their first session.

I’d love to connect with you about how your child can go through this same transformation for themselves!

Posts Tagged as "geometry"

Yay, it’s a new math book from Danica McKellar!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Celebration! Danica McKellar has released her latest math book for girls, Girls Get Curves!

McKellar recently did a really thoughtful interview with NPR about her latest book, which focuses on geometry. One of my favorite parts is this bit, when she talks about taking her first college math class at UCLA:

I was actually worried about taking a math class. I didn’t know that I’d be able to handle it. And here I scored a five on an AP Calculus BC exam. Talk about perceptions. I didn’t see myself as being good at math even though I was. And that’s one of the things I’m tackling in the books. But when I did jump into that math class, despite my concerns and my fears, I did really well and I was hooked.

I was like, wow, I suddenly felt valued and important for something that had nothing to do with Hollywood. It had everything to do with something that I was building from the inside out, and you don’t have to have been on television to struggle as a teenage girl with your self-image. And that’s why I know that math is an amazing tool for all girls to find themselves, to find something that they value themselves for.

Because I admire Danica and share with her a mission of helping girls (and guys too) really GET math in a way that is fun and meaningful, I’ve read a lot of her interviews very closely (and I even got the chance to interview her myself about her third math book for Wired’s GeekMom blog — check it out here). I’ve heard her talk about how doing a difficult math problem during college would make her euphoric, and her journey of becoming a math major.

But this is the first time I’ve heard her talk about experiencing math as a refuge – a place where you can incubate and develop your own abilities and intellectual strength and work “from the inside out” in a way that has nothing to do with appearances.

This vision really resonates with me — and I hope that all girls (and guys) can experience math this way.

Would you love to experience math as a refuge – even if right now, you might not be sure that it’s possible to ever regain your confidence?

Then I invite you to apply for my very special one-on-one math tutoring programs!

Just click here to get started with your special application. Once your application is received, we’ll set up a special phone call to get clear if my approach would be a good fit for your child.

I’m here for you, and I’m so glad we’re connected!

Sending you love,

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No More Girls Versus Boys
My Favorite Math Teacher Is a Woman
How to help your kids with their math homework

Posts Tagged as "geometry"

Got the summer math packet blues? Try some Purplemath

Friday, July 15th, 2011

This goes out to all the kids who are working on summer math packets without having a textbook to refer to. If you need a good online math reference, I highly recommend Purplemath (one of my personal favorite math websites).

This site has a GREAT lessons index so you can quickly find the exact topic you need. The lessons (written-out explanations) are very thorough and easy to follow. They’re not written like a math book, but like having someone really smart and kind explain things to you in a conversation. The lessons do an excellent job of going over concepts AND steps, integrating the “what do I do?” with the “why it works!”

The site also features community forums sorted by level—starting with arithmetic and going all the way up to trigonometry. So if you have a math question, you can post it in the appropriate forum and get help from other community members. Elizabeth Stapel, the founder of purplemath, frequently responds to students’ posts in the forum herself!

Thank you, Elizabeth Stapel, for this totally user-friendly and expert site!

Related Posts:
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I am SO EXCITED about Math U See!
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Posts Tagged as "geometry"

Failure is not the enemy

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

A few years ago, I was tutoring a ninth grader who was struggling in her geometry class. Her teacher’s teaching style didn’t mesh with her own learning style, and she also had a lot of test anxiety, so even when she began to master the material, it wasn’t yet showing through on her tests.

As we worked together, I observed my student slowly replacing her overwhelmedness with genuine interest and enjoyment. She started tackling difficult proofs, and her eyes would light up with excitement and understanding when all the pieces fit together. We were a few months into the long-term project of slowly building up her understanding when her dad made a decision, without my input, to pull her out of her geometry class because she was “in danger of failing.”

Even though my student understood the material, she got so nervous on the tests that if you just looked at her test scores it looked like she couldn’t do geometry. But she could! She consistently did it perfectly, by herself, in our tutoring sessions! When we reviewed her tests, the material made sense to her once she was outside the testing environment. And I was confident that she could pull up her grades if we continued working together.

In the sessions before her dad switched her math classes, I asked my student what she wanted to do. She told me that her choice would be to switch to another geometry class at the same level, but just with a different teacher. But for whatever reason, she didn’t perceive this option as being available to her—I’m not sure if it was a scheduling issue, a political issue, convenience, parental pressure, or something else.

What her dad decided to do was switch her into a “problem solving” class. My student and I met one last time after she switched into this class. Her book made me want to cry—it was a bunch of reasoning problems about things like Corey the Camel carrying bananas across the desert. (I’m serious. It really had problems featuring Corey the Camel.) The material was basically elementary-school level—no algebra, no geometry. Just simple word problems. Maybe the geometry class was 15% too hard for her, but this “problem-solving” class was about 100% too easy for her.

After that session, I did something I’d never done before. I wrote an email to the dad, explaining as diplomatically as possible and at great length that I really didn’t think this new class was appropriate for his daughter. I explained how much his daughter loved working on Geometry and was learning a lot even if she wasn’t yet testing well. And I expressed my concern that this class would limit her in the future, since basic algebra and geometry were prerequisites for so many other disciplines.

I wrote, wouldn’t it be better for her to take geometry and learn some geometry, even if she got a “failing” grade, than for her to take a class where she would learn nothing at all?

Her father’s response was vituperative. How dare I suggest that he allow his child to “fail!” And I never saw either of them again. I honestly don’t know how I could have handled this differently, but my heart still breaks for that student.

In comparison, another student’s family handled the perceived threat of failure very differently. I was working with a ninth grader who was struggling with Algebra 2 because her elementary school had failed to teach her basics like long division (she was supposed to “figure it out for herself”.) I believe when we started working together she was failing the class.

I was extremely proud of how hard this student worked, and she finished the year with either a low B or a high C. At the end of the year, her algebra 2 teacher suggested that she consider voluntarily repeating the class, just to strengthen her skills before moving on to more advanced math.

My student chose to repeat the class, even though she felt at least a little bit embarrassed to be the only sophomore in that class full of freshmen (at least I figured this was the case since she joked about it). She chose to learn instead of to look good. And her parents supported her. I was so impressed with her integrity.

By the end of her second time through algebra 2, the material that had brought her to tears the previous year did not phase her at all. But I think about the other family,
and how they didn’t want to let their daughter fail. Did that student ever get another chance to love geometry? Was she stuck in remedial math classes for the rest of high school? What did she did she do for her math requirements in college? I wish I knew. I hope she got another chance, instead of internalizing a message that she “couldn’t do math.”

Why do we protect our kids from failure, even to the detriment of their own learning?

Related Posts:
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Algebra Tears
“I Think I See A Mathematician!”

Posts Tagged as "geometry"

My Favorite Math Teacher Is A Woman

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

After my last post about how I used to cry myself to sleep over my math homework in middle school, one of my friends wanted to know, when did math start to make sense to me again?

Two words: Nancy Oliver.

My amazing ninth grade geometry teacher.

Nancy taught in a classroom where a former student had painted a colorful mural of the trig mnemonic “SOH CAH TOA” as a tribute to her on the back wall. In her room, I felt relaxed, focused, and safe. I had just spent three years of middle school algebra feeling panicked, utterly frustrated and incompetent in the math department. But with her instruction, I finally felt like math was something I was completely capable of doing.

How did she do it? Like any good teacher, she showed us what to do, and then gave us a chance to do it. At the beginning of each class, she’d demonstrate a new type of problem. Then, after answering our questions, she’d assign practice problems so we could practice what she’d just shown us. With her, even challenging proofs seemed like enjoyable puzzles to figure out. My brother and I still talk about what an amazing math teacher she was, over ten years after we took her class.

But when I reflected on my friend’s question, I realized something I’d never thought of before. Nancy Oliver, the only math teacher I had from 6th to 12th grade who was a woman, was also the only math teacher I had from 6th to 12th grade who really made sense to me. Coincidence?

Obviously there are some great male math teachers out there. I’ve worked with some of their students (Byron Parrish’s, at the Winsor School), I read their books and watched documentaries about them (Rafe Esquith), and I follow their blogs (Sam J. Shah). I was just never lucky enough to actually have one of them as a teacher myself! (Disclaimer: I also know from experience there are bad female math teachers out there.)

Maybe my personality and teaching/learning style was just more compatible with Nancy than with any of my other teachers. But it’s also possible that the fact that Nancy was a woman was a big part of why math finally started to make sense to me, a girl, when she was my teacher.

Maybe the secret ingredients were:

I felt completely comfortable asking her for help—more comfortable than I did with any other math teacher. I never, ever felt stupid or ashamed, no matter how confused I was. (In comparison, I often felt embarrassed asking my male teachers for help, even though I knew most of them wanted to be patient and kind with me.)

I understood her explanations. Nancy consistently explained things to me in a way that made sense to me. (I often felt discouraged even approaching my male math teachers for help. Not only did that mean I couldn’t figure it out by myself, but also, their explanations didn’t clear up my confusion as consistently as hers did.) It’s possible that Nancy approached math in a particular way as a woman that made it easier for me as a girl to understand her. Or, maybe she just had a larger repertoire of explanations than my male math teachers did.

She was a role model to me. Maybe I thought—even subconsciously—“if this awesome lady can do geometry, maybe I can too.”

Now that I’m a math tutor, I feel a special bond with many of my students who are girls. (I bond with my male students too, just over different things, like biking through Boston in the snow.) At first I thought that girly bonding—over the release of Mean Girls, or Betsey Johnson handbags shaped like strawberries, or mutual admiration for each other’s style—was just part of establishing rapport and helping my students feel comfortable. But now I wonder if maybe some girls just feel more comfortable with me as a role model because I’m female.

So, thank you, Nancy Oliver, for being my female math role model, and helping me turn everything around. I hope I can carry your torch!

Related Posts:
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Case study: regaining love of math
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Posts Tagged as "geometry"

Case Study: Learning Geometry with a Spatial Disability

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

One of my favorite success stories was a star hockey player who was failing geometry because he had a spatial disability. For many people, geometry is very intuitive because of the diagrams, but for this student, reading diagrams was extra difficult.

One of the first things I tried with this student was using erasable colored pencils to label different parts of the diagram in different colors. I hoped the different colors would help him distinguish different parts of the diagram, un-jumble them, and process the information better. But he didn’t seem to be into the colored pencils, so we stopped using them after a while.

However, I knew he must have excellent kinesthetic-spatial intelligence in order to be such an awesome hockey player. I mean, he specialized in creating and responding to vectors on ice, right? So I tried to talk with him about visualizing things in motion. I would tear up pieces of notebook paper and create animated versions of the diagrams by moving the pieces of paper around.

In the end, I think the teaching strategy that helped him the most was just really breaking down the geometry diagrams. I realized that he was missing a lot of crucial information about how to interpret diagrams that most teachers probably never explain, most likely because it seems so “obvious.”

For example, someone without a spatial disability would look at a diagram of a triangle and just infer that if a number is tucked inside an angle, then it is the measure of that angle. Similarly, it would be easy for them to intuit that if a number is next to a line, then it’s the measure of that line.

But because of his disability, these things weren’t obvious to my student, and no one had ever explained them to him before. So we filled in the missing pieces. We broke down the different parts of those diagrams so he’d know exactly what to look for and which numbers affected which part.

The awesome part is that after a couple months, he went from failing to getting As and Bs!

Related Posts:
Case Study: Regaining Love of Math
Case Study: Confused by Math Instruction in a Foreign Language